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the presence of a mother

Boy did this absolutely amazing thing for me. And the effect of this one thing he did has rippled much farther into the future than I ever anticipated.

It had become this running joke about our mothers, that after 11 years they had never met. Of course they knew more about each other than they may ever realize. My mother is obviously a key figure in my  life, and so is boy’s mother. Each has been a tremendous influence on the woman I am and the woman I have yet to become. So after all I have asked from boy – quitting his job (although it has become the longest goodbye yet), relocating to a desert, saying goodbye to our friends (do you KNOW how hard it is to make such awesome friends as an adult?) and leaving the place that holds more sentimental value than the galaxy holds stars – after all of this, he surprised me by managing to get me to the airport for a surprise visit from both his mother and my mother so they could support me at my white coat ceremony. Did I mention this happened on his birthday?

The first night they were here I went to bed in a stupor, so filled with love I tried to describe it and felt like a  babbling fool. I compared it to the realization of a mythical event. For so long I sustained from envisioning a wedding because the logistics sound like a nightmare. So having them both there to support me on my new journey into medicine was something beyond what my mind was prepared to receive. Their presence felt like a blessing on my new journey.

But here’s the unexpected echo from boy’s gesture. When my mom was here I hugged her goodnight as she came from her bath and retreated to the guest bedroom. I noted the slight perfume from her skin and the humidity from the bath tub and it brought me back, so far back, to being a little girl and finding comfort in my mother’s bed time routine.  She bathed every night, followed by the application of lotion, and then turned on the bedside light as she read prior to going to sleep. I would mark time by her routine. Sometimes I would not go to sleep until I knew that she too was in bed. Sometimes I would walk in and tell her I couldn’t sleep and she would walk me back to bed. Most of the time I would try to climb into her bed so I could spend the night feeling safest by her side. All of those nights were accompanied by the slight humidity left over from her bath and the soft scent of her lotion.

I’m 6 weeks into medical school. Even at the age of 31, this is probably one of the scariest journeys I have been on. I get stressed, lose sleep, and try to desperately reassure myself that both dog and boy are happy in the middle of the conservative desert. And sometimes, when I get too exhausted from it all, I drag my feet to the guest bedroom and lie down, not trying to feel guilty about the allowance of rest over studying. I envision that my mother is somewhere nearby and there is a gentle humidity from her bath lingering over the room. Just knowing that she slept in that room is enough to convince me that the scent of her lotion is still permeating through the hallway and into the bedroom. And I can close my eyes and find some relief from that self-critical voice that got me here, that pushes me harder, that knows exactly how hard I had to work to get here and knows that it will not end anytime soon. I fall asleep haggard with the memory of my mother’s comfort tucked into the senses of my mind and I wake up knowing that I am enough. I know that my mother will not always be here. She lost her mother when she was my age. But the shadow of her presence is so powerful that I know it will grant me a lifetime of solace.

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August 24, 2012 · 10:07 pm

Mr. Dyson rocks my world

I like to mock the guy who does the Dyson commercials.  He’s pale, has a funny accent and charges a mint for his arty vacuum cleaners.  But this?  This tugged at my physicist-wannabe heartstrings and had me googling airfoil ramps and drooling over one.  Pretty awesome, Mr. Dyson.

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a fix in time

Know that really traumatic day you had in elementary school?  Everyone has one.  The one terrible horrible despicable day that stands out in your mind every time “traumatic childhood experience” comes to mind.  Here’s mine:

Kindergarten.  Nap time.  End of the day.  Remember nap time?  Mrs. Durst would put on the record player (yeah, record player.  and no, I’m not as old as you think) and we lay there for how long?  I have no idea.  I never remember falling asleep though.  But I do remember the kids that did fall asleep because the lights would come on, we’d all put away our mats, and the kids that fell asleep were left on their mats in the reading circle until the bell rang and they’d have to wake up, and run to catch their bus to go home.  God I wish we still had nap time.

But the most traumatic horrible day ever?  I fell asleep at nap time.  I know!  The horror!  But the bad part came when I  woke up.  I remember going over to my desk, packing up, putting my chair on top of my desk, and then I went to put on my shoes.  My shoe lace was in a knot and I couldn’t get my shoe on.  My teacher couldn’t untie the knot, my desk neighbor couldn’t untie the knot, and then, the worst thing happened – the bell rang.  My teacher told me  I’d just have to go to the bus without my shoe one.   No biggie, right?  Ha, yeah right.

Let’s revisit the me of kindergarten.  I had a reputation as the prissy little blond girl that wore dresses every day, threw violent temper tantrums when I didn’t get my way, and would burst into tears at the drop of a hat.  Over nothing.  Our friends had a 3 year old that started having horrific, middle of the night screaming nightmares… about spaghetti.  Yes, spaghetti.  Food gave her nightmares.  While they didn’t get it, I had nothing but empathy for this kid.  The boy and I termed it being a “sensi”.  When your kid is so sensitive to change and new things that it causes a complete emotional breakdown.  I was totally that kid.

Now take that prissy little girl who loves routine and can’t emotionally handle change and tell her she has to ride the bus home without her shoe.  Not good.  I think I started sobbing before the bus pulled out of the school lot.  We had “bus girls” that would parade up and down the aisle of the bus telling everyone to be quiet and sit down.  Usually this was a precocious bossy 4th grader that really enjoyed ratting out people.  She came up to me to tell me to be quiet and I sobbed out “can I sit next to my sister?”  I had to let my sister know I couldn’t get my shoe on.  The bus girl let me move to sit next to my sister and, in typical sister style, I’m pretty sure she gave me that annoyed look followed by “what?  why are you crying?” But even she couldn’t get the knot out.  To be fair, we lived less than a mile from school.  So we were home soon enough.  And when the bus doors opened up I bolted across the street and into my mom’s arms in tears all because I had to go all the way home… without a shoe on.  And my mom carried me home so I didn’t have to walk without a shoe on.  I have such a nice mom.

And that day has stayed with me.  For 23 years it has been such an awful emotional experience.  And then last night, in my dream, I woke up on the mat in kindergarten.  And instead of my 5 year old frame of mind, I woke up with my 28 year old mind and I recognized it immediately.  First thing I thought to myself “I know this place – I know this day.  And I am NOT falling asleep…” And you know what?  I got up off that mat and because I did that, I had enough time to get that knot out of my shoe and put it on before the bell rang!  And I made it home with my shoe on and it was no longer the worst day most traumatic day ever.

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once upon a time

I’ve been reading a lot of reviews of Where the Wild Things Are.  And I’ve noticed how different everyone’s take on this movie is – it’s interesting.  I felt confused during the movie.  My eyes enjoyed the movie, my adult brain kept stepping in to interrupt.  But I guess I’ll start at the beginning.

Something in the camera angles, the point of view of a 10 year old, the fact that Max looked almost too old to be wearing a wolf suit, almost, not quite, but almost.  Something about this is striking, his tantrums seemed real, his last assertion of being a kid making it both obnoxious and endearing.  Tears of frustration and sadness and anger in an inability to just say what he felt – those visceral emotions are so real to everyone.  I sat at work the following day staring at my inbox slightly annoyed and all I could think is how much satisfaction I would get from putting a nice snarky growl to my frustration.  It would make me feel so much better instead of having to use my adult words my therapist has so patiently taught me to do over the past year.  And then Max runs away.  And I’m right there with him, cheering him on to just go, keep running!

And he sails away to find the place where those wild things are.  And here’s where the reviews I’ve been reading start to break apart into differing opinions about how the monsters were portrayed and how the plot unfolds and whether or not this can be regarded as a kids’ movie.  But I went into this not thinking of it as a kids’ movie.  This was my movie.  Why?  Because I had the book and I had the dolls, and I only remember them as the blue monster and the orange monster.  And when the monsters appeared on screen, they spoke.  And when they spoke they automatically were assigned a gender.  And I found that the most confusing of all.  These were my monsters, and I never once assigned them a gender.  So I had to let the story go and allow the movie to unfold only to reveal a new story.  A story with familiar images that keep returning to my imagination along with a feeling of comfort; similar to finding a revered stuffed animal in the back of your childhood closet and you pick it up and hug it in the same way you did when you were 7 yrs old.

So that’s what I took from the movie.  And I returned to what I remember from the book… But wait, what do I remember from the book?  I remember the shadowy trees, the monsters lifting Max up, a growl… there was a growl somewhere, right?  For me, this is the best part about seeing the movie.  I’m reminded that we all own this story.  We all took the pages and filled them in with our own story.  And I was grateful for the movie reminding me of this.

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Away We Go

I’ve read a few good books and seen a few good movies this summer that I’ve been meaning to write about.  Now that my summer class is over and I have 3 weeks to get caught up on everything I’ve missed out on the last 2 months, I finally have some time to decompress about it.  First up?  Away We Go

Sum up – two 30-somethings find out they’re expecting a kid and suddenly start questioning everything.  Once they realize they have nothing holding them to their current home, they go off exploring in an attempt to find the kind of life they envision themselves having.  Suddenly everyone they seek out becomes a template for a possible life and their confidence plummets as they realize their once-close friends haven’t grown up to the be the best parents, sometimes the people you love don’t always make the decisions you want them to make, and sometimes life isn’t fair to those who deserve it most.  They navigate the meaning of their relationship through their friends’ relationships.  When they find out that they can’t define who they are through other people, they are forced into a life of their own.  Through their self doubts and misconceptions about what it means to be a family, they find the confidence they need to start a family.

Why do I like this movie?  Maya Rudolph was awesome.  I am so used to her sarcastic voice that has a slight lift at the end everything she says on Saturday Night Live I kept listening for it so I could say “Aha, there it is, I knew she couldn’t be that normal…”  It never happened, her character was relatable, likable, level-headed, and she didn’t make pregnancy come across as an experience essential to declaring yourself a woman.

But mostly I like it because of one line in particular.  At one  point along their journey, Maya’s character turns to Jim Krasinki’s character and wonders out loud “It’s like we’re the only people in love” (but don’t quote me on that, I couldn’t find the exact line).  I would argue that if you haven’t felt that at some point in your life, you have never been in love.  There’s nothing over the top, there’s no need for a dramatic break up to rediscover why you fell in love in the first place, there’s no need to doubt why you love the person you’re with.  You just do the best you can.

I think I like it because I believe that these 2 characters really are in love and I want them to know how much I believe in them throughout the movie.  But even if I were able tell them, they would still have to figure it out on their own.  And they do.

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dodging a bullet

There are times when I was pretty sure that the only reason I got what I wanted was because I was a girl.  My car was once towed for free.  I got a free radio installation.  And who knows what else, because when you’re 17 and have long blond hair, society trains you to expect to get certain things, no questions asked…  Sad, but true.  (also why I think it’s important for girls to chop that hair off and then see what happens!  It’s VERY enlightening…)

I’ll come back to this, bear with me.  Recently someone mentioned a good volunteer opportunity with a doctor.  These aren’t easy to come by, but this physician in particular worked with a  lot of students and has had a private practice for over 30 years.  I sent in my application and received more than I expected in return.

I went in for a preliminary meeting with the doctor where he seemed nice enough.  He was an elderly man that kind of stuttered over his words and talked… a lot… about himself… I didn’t say much that first meeting.  But he asked me to come in to shadow a bit so I could see what it was like.  I thought this was a bit much for volunteer work, but I asked for some time off and went in (yes, time off to volunteer…)  I really liked what I did.  I talked to patients, he explained charts, medications, I saw how the whole office was run.  I left kind of excited about the opportunity.

About a week later, he sent me an email asking me to come back again during my work time to “see what we could do about turning me into a cheery volunteer.”  Okay, I have this quirky sensitivity to not being a cheery person.  I know, it’s retarded, but I’m WELL aware of the fact I appear to be an unsmiling pisshead.  But I’m also not a naturally chipper person, it’s just not who I am.  (An aside, my dad once told me he hoped I would choose to live in Europe because I was so introverted and Europe has a better acceptance of introverts than Americans.  And you want to know something?  SO TRUE.  I get reamed all the time for not smiling, even by homeless people.  But my 9 months in Paris?  I got flack over my boy short hair, but never over my not smiling…)  Anyway, needless to say the doctor mentioning that made me super paranoid over nothing and I thought I was not going to get the volunteer job at all because I don’t smile enough and how lame would that be?  But the during work hours thing?  Kind of also lame.  Because he knew I had a full time job.  And he knew I wanted to volunteer after work in the evenings…  But once again, I moved my work schedule around with some vague excuse to go in a volunteer late one afternoon.

I loved talking to patients.  I loved pulling out medical charts for the next day, learning about prescriptions, and flipping through histories to get a sense of what brings people in.  After the office closed the doctor asked me out for a drink to talk about volunteering.  I agreed and we went to a restaurant for appetizers.  He told me a lot about his practice, told me how everyone on his staff was in school (4 part time medical students, 1 receptionist, all female).  He told me about how he liked having students around.  Since he is in a private practice students insured he had people interested in medicine he could talk with and he also had something to offer – a nice recommendation.  And he brought some of the recommendations with him to show me (I’ve never had this happen before and honestly, it seems like something that should stay private, but he brought them, and I read them…)  I read two.  Each for a previous female volunteer.  And what stood out?  Well, the general lack of anything spectacular about his recommendation (did he even know these people?)  and one sentence in the second one – “However, (this girl’s) biggest asset is her physical appearance and demeanor.”  I think I stopped there and don’t even remember what the rest said.

He told me about how he met a previous medical assistant and volunteer.  They were cocktail waitresses at a resort that he is the physician for and he recruited them.  He told me there are lots of perks to working with him, one being he tends to give really great gifts after his volunteers and staff get into med school.  In fact he gave the last volunteer an iPhone with the caveat she keep in touch with him.  And he recently went to a former employee’s graduation party from med school.  He liked what  he did and wanted to establish a family vibe…

He asked me on the spot if I’d like to join the team as a volunteer.  I told him wanted to talk about it with my partner.  Why did I say that?  Honestly, it was the line in the recommendation letter.  It REALLY bothered me that he would comment on someone’s physical appearance and that a med school would see that.  What did he say to my response?  Well, first he kept asking me in however many ways possible if I would accept the volunteer job.  Then he asked:  “Well, do you mind me asking if by ‘partner’ you mean ‘lesbian partner’?”  Yeah… He did ask that.  And yes, I do call boy my partner.  Because he is my life partner.  I told the doctor no, it’s my boyfriend, I just call him my partner.  He gave me this lecture on terminology and said well if you’ve been together so long you may as well call it common law spouse.  I left it at that, and walked back to the office with him as I had accepted his ride home since it was already 8:30 pm.

He left something in his office, so we went back before going to his car.  While in his office he showed me a bulletin board where he wrote little poems and rewrote songs to sing to his employees and volunteers that went off to school.  He sang a few, I was tired and wanted to go home, but he sang and read some more and finally we left.  So he dropped me off at home where boy and I talked it out.

I liked this volunteer opportunity.  But it was the doctor himself that put me off.  Not only was it the line in the recommendation, but he directed me on how I should refer to boy.  That just flat out annoyed me.  So we talked out pros and cons, and as much as I liked the work, the doctor would annoy me.  Just his singing and poetry alone would put me over the edge.  Just not worth it.

I called the doctor the next day to thank him but to let him know I would not be accepting the volunteer opportunity.  And he flipped.  “Was it me?  Did I say something?  I really thought you wanted be a part of this office, that’s why I read you my poems and took you out for a drink!  Were you intimidated by the work?”  Yeah, I’M NOT KIDDING, this went on for about 10 minutes in which I repeated over and over “you know, it’s just not a good fit for me.”

I’ve repeated this experience to quite a few people, because personally, I was terribly shaken up by his response.  I was really upset by his response.  Part of me felt guilty, but a huge part of me was scared.  I can’t really explain why I was scared I just was…  The response from other people however has been very divided.  Some people are like oh well, you’ll find another place to volunteer.  And others?  “Al, you dodged a bullet.”

My thoughts on this having sat on it for a few weeks?  This doctor is a sexist old man.  He surrounds himself with young 20-something women where he not only assumes a position of paternal power that is looking out for their career, he has no boundaries.  The receptionist told me about her 2 weeks of unpaid training when she started and how he only compensated her on bridge tolls driving to and from the office.  (Is that even legal?  I think it’s very exploitative)  He asked me about my personal life crossing the limitations of professionalism, pressured me into commiting to the volunteer job on the spot, and the initial email (about being a cheery volunteer) seemed like an attempt to manipulate someone who is insecure (which often soft-spoken and not smiley is misinterpreted for lack of self-confidence.)  I think his response was because I bruised his ego and he has never been turned down by a young woman before…  And honestly, I don’t think any of this is extreme accusation, but rather the truth…

I do think that less than a year ago I would have not seen any of this and would have volunteered for this guy.  I think this is my first awareness of sexism and I think many people find this harmless.  I think that’s too bad.

The experience is sticking with me because I am still shaken up by it.  Mostly that I got so far into being around this doctor before I could see what was up.  I was about to let myself be typecast as one of the office girls.  And now, I’m recalling all of the other times I have allowed myself to be typecast, not stood up for myself, let someone assume I was just one of those girls.  Just one of those girls…  And while I keep beating myself up for not seeing this earlier in my life, I know now that I will never let that happen again.


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The Battle of White Noise

I don’t hide the fact that I go to therapy.  Every Monday I leave work an hour early and commute over to my therapist’s office and for 45 minutes I allow myself to be the most narcissistic person that I will ever allow myself to be.  (As far as I’m concerned, it’s the most selfish thing I will ever do, and paying for it is the only way I can justify it…)  But why do I still need it?  9 months after I started to go?  Especially since I told my boss I’d only be going for a few months back in October and I keep waiting for her to ask “hey, what’s the deal with the leave-early Mondays 9 months later?” but rather I usually get a surprised look when I sweep by at 3:20 and say “see you tomorrow.”

I have to go back to September of last fall to explain.  At the beginning of every Chemistry class this past year we had a 15 minute quiz.  I spent all of my Sundays last year reading Chemistry for Monday night tests.  I’d read over my notes before class, walk into class, take the quiz, and fail.  People would finish in the first 5 minutes, start chatting, the professor would start talking as I tried to finish up my quiz, and I couldn’t focus on anything.  Panic built up and my brain felt like it wanted to explode and I would either spend the rest of the class fighting back tears or, come mid-semester, I started to simply walk out of class after the quiz and walk from campus to boy’s apartment crying.  It sucked and I felt like a loser because I studied, I knew the information, I just couldn’t take the goddamn quizzes.  On top of that, I would come home to boy who had no understanding about the nature of my frustration.  He would tell me over and over to practice with timed quizzes at home not realizing that the time factor wasn’t the issue.  I couldn’t get my brain to relax and focus on the test without everything else in the room going from a soft buzz to a screaming train.

The frustration trickled into my studying.  Doing physics homework became an inevitable cry it out session that lasted about 4 hours each time.  I couldn’t get through a problem without breaking down and losing sight of what was even being asked of me.  I had hints of this the year before in Biology.  At one point I approached my Biology professor and confessed that I thought I had a learning disorder because I had no idea how to take a test.  (Taking tests – a guaranteed area where your overly-liberal arts undergraduate education will fail you.)  I just felt plain stupid.  I had flash backs to my college roommate who, being the same major as me, was in at least 1 class with me every semester since our freshman year.  The girl’s a whiz.  Ask her today and she can still remember every piece of literature we read and the theme of each title as well as every article she read in Foreign Policy magazine during our study abroad and will challenge you to recent political trivia like it’s the latest entertainment news.  For someone who had to read and reread to grasp at just what exactly was going on, I remember often feeling stupid and unable to participate in class discussions.  I completely read over a rape scene in my women’s literature class.  (Try explaining to a class of 15 feminists that you didn’t think the rape scene constituted rape because, fact is, you just didn’t recall what you read.)  Feeling stupid is a terrible feeling.  It leads people to act out of sorts; some people get angry, some people become overly proud, some people get depressed.  My esteem crashed.  I took it personally when people suggested nursing school or told me that some people just don’t have the aptitude to become doctors.  Convinced I was going to have low grades for that semester, I started to look at certification schools for surgical techs and physician’s assistants.

So, I went to counseling.  Talked about what I was feeling.  Talked about methods that helped some people.  I used a few, but I mostly got through the semester out of fear.  I have a few methods I use (mostly meditative visualizations prior to sitting down and studying or test taking), but part of me still wonders if they’re good enough.  Half way though spring semester a girl in class behind me mumbled “I have got to take more adderall before this class, I am falling asleep.”  Huh.  I guess that’s one way to get through it.  I wasn’t sure what it even was, so I looked it up when I got home and found this article in The New Yorker.  It’s an enlightening read.  My counselor had suggested prescription meds.  I missed a few days of work this year after endless nights of panic attacks and rather than relaxing I would spend the day worrying that my boss would expect a doctor’s note or a deathly cold that I was martyring my way through upon returning to work the following day.  But I didn’t want meds.  That was the point of counseling, right?  to avoid meds?  to talk my way through this and nip it in the bud?

I met with my premed adviser for the first time recently.  Yes, my GPA is low (3.3 is low for premed.)  He asked how I am at standardized testing.  I told him the problem, the white noise that creates a fuzz in my mind, the panic, the fact that I know the information and it has nothing to do with whether I know the information and everything to do with focusing.  He told me about his personal experience with this problem.  The lack of retention of what he’d read, the same panic, the fact that testing didn’t reflect what he knew.  But what did he suggest?  Adderall.  (To his credit, he offered several solutions and was happy to hear I was seeing a counselor about this, but what stood out in my mind was the Adderall.)

I’ve had the conversation with boy about this – if we had easy access to this drug, would we use it?  How prevalent is it in the premed community?  Well, premeds are of a certain sort and I was embarassed at even admitting to getting panic attacks because it’s what you’d expect from a premed student, right?  I found this article on the student doctor network.  More interesting than the article itself is the comment section.  Where does adderall cross the line and become a neuroenhancer verses a helpful drug to those who need it?  What are the side effects on creativity?  How far behind will I be in my application process next summer when held up against my peers, several of whom take adderall?

A bigger problem for me is the white noise is spreading.  I now struggle with this more at work than in my studies.  Part of my job encourages me to be on social networks tracking and participating in the trends of social outreach and engagement.  This involvement has created enough white noise to turn my days into project-hopping madness mixed with an over-caffeinated effort to GTD (get things done.)  I dread interruptions because I have enough in front of me.  I fret over wasting time and have trained my visualizations for studying, not for work.  Even when studying, however, I sometimes require a good few hours of mental prep before tackling the material.  And after cracking open a book, I don’t really hit the meat of the material until hours 2-4.  I am not a study on the train and during lunch type of person.  Rather, I do study marathons that leave me buzzed on focus and usually I have to channel any remaining energy into Sudoku puzzles to wind down afterward.  It’s a great feeling actually, but one that I have to work hard for.

So what’s the answer?  I don’t know.  Maybe I am a good candidate for adderall.  But part of me would still feel like it’s a cheat.  Of course I want good grades and recognition at work for being the person who is always on top of my work load.  But at what cost?

I’m exploring osteopathic medicine and philosophy.  Not only because of my low GPA, but mostly because of my personal philosophy on this subject alone.  I want to believe I’m more capable than a pill will ever make me, I just have to learn how to exercise my capabilities.  The awareness of this white noise problem seems to be making it worse, but I can at least say the edge of panic has been removed.  I don’t slip into the freight train mode despite the white noise mode becoming more constant and present.  And I’ll accept that as improvement with more to go.  In the end, who knows.  I suspect it will seep in and out of our culture similar to restless leg syndrome – an awareness will slip into an obsession that requires medication, and as soon as the obsession fades so do the symptoms.  Let’s hope the obsession doesn’t last until the end of my current class, because I really want to up my GPA.

Update: How timely that I should wake up to this article.


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